Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Tracy L. Morris.


The purpose of the current study was to investigate a primary assumption of social rank theory. More specifically, the purpose was to determine whether the perception of social inferiority leads to increased anxiety during social interaction, with a heightened effect occurring among those who are more socially anxious. Although multiple studies have demonstrated shared covariates between social anxiety and perceptions of inferiority, virtually no research has been dedicated to scrutinizing the causal relationship proposed by social rank theory. One hundred undergraduate students at West Virginia University participated in this study. Participants engaged in three social interaction tasks with a same-gender peer and completed self-report measures designed to assess anxiety and perceptions of inferiority/superiority. Following each social interaction task, participants provided ratings of the highest level of distress they experienced during the task. The correlation between participants' social anxiety and perceptions of inferiority/superiority was examined. A significant, negative correlation was hypothesized between these two variables. This study also examined whether perceived inferiority/superiority in relation to a participant's interaction partner would significantly predict anxiety (general, physical, and cognitive) following each of the interaction tasks, each related to a different social domain (casual conversation, social influence, and task oriented collaboration), as well as highest level of distress experienced during each of these tasks. This study utilized an interaction term to investigate whether social anxiety would moderate the hypothesized effect of perceived inferiority/superiority on anxiety during social interaction. In accordance with social rank theory, it was hypothesized that perceived inferiority/superiority would significantly predict each of the dependent variables, with an increased effect occurring among those with higher baseline levels of social anxiety. Six regression analyses were performed to investigate the hypotheses. Though a significant, negative correlation was found between social anxiety and perceived inferiority/superiority, additional findings were contradictory to the hypotheses.